• alicjapawluczuk

Social Impact evaluation does matter: findings from #NotWithoutME Youth Digital Inclusion Project


The findings from the #NotWIthouthME Youth Digital Inclusion project have recently been published. They reveal that more needs to be done to improve they way organisations and groups capture and analyse social effectives of digital youth work.

#NotWithoutME is a digital youth inclusion project funded by the Carnegie Trust. The key aim of this initiative was to reach digitally excluded young people:

“Not all young people are digital natives. Those who are vulnerable, particularly those at points of transition in their life (unemployed, homeless, in care, in secure accommodation, excluded from mainstream education, seeking asylum) are most at risk of slipping through the net and falling outside the digital mainstream.” (#NotWithoutME, 2015)

Yes, not all young people can be defined as digital natives

Having worked with digital excluded young people in the past , I wholeheartedly agree with the aims of #NotWithoutME initiative. I think that the problem of digital youth exclusion should be openly discussed.

Technologies have been surrounding children and young people for about two decades now, and certainly have had an impact on their interactions with each other and society. Digital media altered the way young people communicate, network and learn. As Ito et al. argue, nowadays young people are considered as active digital “participants, makers, doers” (2013, p.6).

During everyday conversations, I would often (wrongly) say that children nowadays might have 'digital elements embedded into their DNA'. Obviously, many people would agree by giving examples of how their children naturally explore new apps on their tablets or constantly ‘stare at their phones’. Not surprisingly, for many it seems that ALL children and young people gain their digital skills effortlessly.

However, digital skills cover so much more than just scrolling, fast typing or sending emails .

Let’s consider the amount of information all of us receive via digital devices on a daily basis. How can critically and mindfully asses all of the content that is bombarding us? How can ensure that our privacy isn’t at risk? How can improve the ways we search for reliable sources of information? Finally, how do we present ourselves online - and who has access to our personal information?

All of the above questions are important when considering a more holistic approach to digital skills. Here, Digital One provides a useful framework outlining the basic digital skills. As you can see from the image below, it is way beyond the ‘copy-paste’ approach to learning digital skills (you can click on the graphic to see the details).

#NotWithoutMe: Challenges of measuring and evaluating development

#NotWihothME selected five organisations to work with and presented the outcomes of their digital youth engagement. The key emerging themes from the project are as follows:

In the context of my doctoral study, I am particularly interested in the last theme: 'challenges of measuring and evaluating development'.

Social impact is one of the central themes of my doctoral study. I’m interested in finding new ways to engage young people in the social impact assessment. I think that they are the experts of their own digital experiences, and could potentially have a different and novel definition of what social impact means to them.

The theme of measuring and evaluating the impact of digital youth inclusion was discussed at #NotWithoutME event. Although, I did not participate in the discussion ( as I was sitting at another table), I was very excited to see some of the ideas produced during the discussion.

Involving young people in the evaluation process: youth workers discussion

It is exciting to see that youth digital practitioners are keen to involve young people in the evaluation process. #NotWihtoutME delegates have agreed that young participants opinions, wants and needs should be analysed right from the start of the project. It has been argued that co-creative and co-design approaches are the most effective ways to capture and understand social impact. The workshop has also revealed that it is essential to focus on the individual social change stories. Digital youth workers have claimed that proving collective evidence of the skills gained, does not provide the real picture of the impact. Overall, the groups have agreed that “that measuring the impact in learning digital skills is tough!! Really tough”.

I’m currently working on another blog, covering a more in-depth discussion regarding social impact evaluation approaches in the context of #NotWithoutMe. This should be available soon.

In the meantime, I’d like to share some of the points discussed by the group. This is an edited list and you can find the full version here.I hope some of you may find these usefull in your youth evaluation practice.


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Dr Alicja Pawluczuk

Alicja’s research and community education practice focuses on digital inclusion, digital, and data literacy. She is a founding director of the digital inclusion and digital storytelling collective Digital Beez. Through the use of participatory, critical and multidisciplinary approaches, she aims to examine the power dynamics associated with the digital and data divides.

Alicja’s digital inclusion practice is rooted in the areas of democratic education and community development. She has extensive experience in digital inclusion community projects design, facilitation, and evaluation. Both her community engagement practice and her research are characterised by the use of experimental and interactive methodologies. Over the last 10 years, her work has been responding and changing in accordance with the contexts of digitalization of society. Alicja has a track record of peer-reviewed publications and cross-disciplinary public engagement activities. Both her research and practice are characterised with the use of experimental and creative methods. She has managed and contributed to digital literacy and digital inclusion and learning projects with the United Nations, the Council of Europe, and Erasmus.

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